Profile Response: Jen Levy, Executive Director, Association of Nature Center Administrators

HWWLT Logo on yellowRegardless where your passion lies it’s difficult to make an impact in this world without two basic attributes: a communications network and administrative ability. The environmental movement and ecological awareness prompted the creation of nature centers throughout the world. The founders were environmentally passionate, but not necessarily savvy business people. Twenty-five years ago a grass-roots coalition formed the Association of Nature Center Administrators (ANCA) to provide a mechanism for nature centers to share ideas and become more effective organizations.

imgresToday, more than 600 members representing over 350 institutions around the world belong to ANCA. Jen Levy, Executive Director, shares a spacious office with her mostly volunteer assistants in a grand building that houses a number of non-profit groups as well as a local museum. It’s one of the few buildings in Logan more than fifty years old, and well worth preserving. ANCA is a small and nimble organization. Eight years ago, when Jen became director after holding a variety of positions that connected people to nature, she wanted to stay in Logan. So ANCA relocated here.

images-2“Every wildlife and forestry program has a shadow world of boards, budgets and staffs. That is what ANCA focuses on – making those aspects of organizations effective. We are seeing a significant number of people retiring from nature centers, many of whom have roots in the 1970’s.” These visionaries are often being replaced by people with more administrative capabilities.

imagesEach nature center’s mission is shaped by its context. Urban centers connect people to the natural environment in a more cultivated way than rural centers or places with a preservation focus. Universities have consortium programs with centers that include education and research. There are publicly funded nature centers that are integrated into their city’s budget. And then are there are outliers, like the Foxfield Preserve Nature Cemetery in Ohio. Still, every nature center has an educational component, and that component is evolving. “The traditional fourth grade field trip is changing. More centers are concentrating on educational programs for the entire family that often stretch over time. People want an extended connection. Centers tailor programs to the science curriculum of local schools.”

images-1The number of nature centers continues to increase, and their role in communities continues to expand. “We are shifting from an attitude of, ‘we educate, not advocate,’ to acknowledging that we need to advocate. We are beginning to see a shift from people being afraid that their kid will get burned by the sun or bitten by mosquitoes to an understanding that we need unstructured play time, outside; that people need to get dirty. We want to get away from ‘look don’t touch’ to ‘touch all you want.’”

How will we live tomorrow?

IMG_3236“My hope and our goal is to live with a better, stronger connection to the natural world – and that we are all members of our local nature centers.”

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About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, theawkwardpose.com is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog, www.howwillwelivetomorrw.com, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
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